I'm not even sure I can do justice to the surreality (is that a word) of the experience I had this morning, but I'm going to give it a try. After all, I spent twenty minutes in the car with a friend and fifty times we must have said some variation of "That was just bizarre..."
Let me back this tale up and start somewhere near the beginning. My friend Dena and I are asked from time to time to speak to writing classes. It's mostly high schools and community colleges and such, and more often than not the one who's been invited will ask if it would be all right to bring the other. We have a good rapport and find it's more effective (and entertaining for the students) to play back and forth than to try to fill an hour or two by ourselves. We also have different areas of expertise and between us cover the full range of writing-related activities pretty well.
So it was no great surprise when I got an e-mail from Dena a few weeks ago saying that somebody at a community college near where she lives got her contact info and asked if she could come talk to a class, and was I free to go with her. What was a surprise, however, was that when we got there (about five minutes late; it took longer to get there than we expected)), the students were taking a test.
A test? Aren't tests usually scheduled in advance? Study chapters three and four because there's going to be a test on Friday...?
But Dena and I had been invited to talk for the full two hours. And when we walked into the room the instructor had this odd, Oh-you're-here tone in her greeting. As if she were mildly surprised to see us. She sounded like we had arrived an hour late, not five minutes.
The next thing I noticed was the big sign at the front of the room proclaiming this to be a class on public speaking. Public speaking? I just joined a group several months ago to to improve my own public speaking skills and suddenly I'm standing in front of 30 college kids who are expecting me to talk knowledgeably about that subject?
So Dena and I wing it as best we were able. Truthfully, I was the one who was winging it. It's not my area and I'll be the first to admit that. But Dena has lectured on the subject before and is even working on a book about public speaking, so she smoothly shifts gears and does a fine job of tying public speaking in with communications in general (largely, I think, so I could contribute something to the conversation). And overall it's going pretty smoothly. But within fifteen minutes or so the instructor starts inching closer and closer to Dena sending out this okay-it's-time-for-you-to-go-now vibe.
What else was there to do but wrap up and go? Which we did, saying the whole way back to Dena's house, "What the heck just happened here?"
I understand that miscommunication happens sometimes, but what we were lead to expect and what we were actually asked to deliver were as far apart as could possibly have been imagined. And I wouldn't have minded so much - it is good to get out of the house every now and then - if I hadn't had to drive so far for the privilege of having my time wasted. Between the drive to and from Dena's house and the drive to and from the college, I must have spent at least two and half hours in a car. That's time I could have spend rejecting people's stories... (which is why I won't be reading any IGMS stories today; I make it a point not to read when I'm in a bad mood).
It was just bizarre.